Monday, September 12, 2011

VoIP and some agonies of E.164 or, Forward Into The Past!

Does anyone else remember CompuServe accounts, which were all numbers? Mine was 72125,1424. Or ICQ, which was fun to guess just when the other person signed up by the numeric value of their ICQ account. I'm glad to see ICQ is still operating, which maybe I should have noticed before. I wonder if my old number still works?

Now people use names for their email, in a standard and well understood form that works seamlessly between different service providers. is far more understandable than 72125,1424 ever was.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Abandon Skype all ye who enter here

With the purchase of Skype by Microsoft, there's a question that has been bugging me for quite a while.

Why Skype?

What properties made Skype the 800lbs gorilla of software phones?

I think I have a few ideas.

1) Video. Even though it took a while to get video working on Linux, it does work and works pretty well.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Looking up old friends.

Recently, I have thought about looking up old friends. Like from highschool. Or early girlfriends. People like that.

What has been very hard to keep in mind is that I have made no secret of my identity on the "interwebs". My existence on the 'Net has been rather obvious, from early posts on NANOG and Rec.Motorcycles to the present.

This creates a conflict of interest, of sorts.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Microsoft devours Skype

Skype has been purchased by Microsoft, for $8.5 Billion.

I have used Skype for years on Linux, even though Skype treated their Linux client as something like a red-headed step-child. Features like video chat were always included in the Linux client long after they were in the Windows version, bug fixes were slow, stuff like that.

But, and here's the biggest thing: It worked.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Windows Is Not Free

Three years ago, I read one of the finest articles on the issues concerning the difficulties faced by the advocates of Free and Open Source Software (F/OSS or FOSS), and the endless efforts to get people to give F/OSS an opportunity to work for them.

The article is "Windows Is Free: The Impact of Pirated Software on Free Software", along with the follow up article by the same author, "No Really - Windows Is Free."

Thursday, March 24, 2011

I am now a Linux Kernel Developer

No joke.

On Sunday, March 20th, I submitted a patch to the Linux Kernel Mailing List, to fix a compile problem that began when the "binutils" package, that handles programs written in assembly, was updated such that something that was never a problem before became a problem.

The file linux-2.6.38/arch/x86/kernel/entry_32.S had two places where the "END(foo)" did not match the "foo" in its "ENTRY(foo)". The file dates back to 1992, so this problem has been there the whole time and no one noticed because it didn't cause an error until now.

I have no idea if the patch will be accepted, or even noticed, but I've done it and now anyone who gets the compile error...

arch/x86/kernel/entry_32.S: Assembler messages:
arch/x86/kernel/entry_32.S:1422: Error: .size expression does not evaluate to a constant make[3]: *** [arch/x86/kernel/entry_32.o] Error 1

...will know what it is about and how to fix it if my patch doesn't make it into the kernel.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

"Dum vivimus, vivamus! -- 'While we live, let us live!' "

A friend just pointed me to this video:

This reminds me of why I keep my motorcycle, even though it's spent year after year in various garages while I traveled or did more "important" things.

Robert Heinlein explained why in his book _Glory Road_:

"Dum vivimus, vivamus! -- 'While we live, let us live!' "

When the hero was asked by a very pretty woman what the inscription on his sword meant, the hero said,

"Touch life. Touch life twice!"

Monday, March 14, 2011

Bodhi Linux 0.1.7 and the Enlightenment Desktop

Bodhi has released 0.1.7, a further development release of the Bodhi Enlightenment desktop Linux distribution. As I've mentioned before, Bodhi is focusing on providing usability with a minimal footprint.

By using the Enlightenment graphics environment, Bodhi creates highly configurable, and aesthetically pleasing, visual effects without loading the system down with bloat.

As Bodhi is a tributary of Ubuntu, and so it's no surprise that Bodhi works as a liveCD and not just an install disk. As an old Debian hack myself, I'm so used to install disks doing nothing but installing that it's still a bit of a pleasant surprise.

The installation is fundamentally the same as before, so I don't see a need to go into that again. Well, I will say that the final screen now correctly points out that it is Bodhi Linux, I'm glad that the Bodhi developers took my previous poke in the humorous spirit it was intended.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Hero Of The Day!

Today, March 12th, 2011, saw this man, a Mr. D.H. of somewhere in Los Angeles, become a true Hero in the ancient tradition.

Even with plans for his own birthday to be spent at 6 Flags Amusement Park, Mr. D.H. abandoned those plans the night before simply because a friend needed help moving.

There is a saying older than history itself that while an acquaintance will help you move, a friend will help you move bodies. Mr. D.H. has demonstrated in the heroic tradition that it doesn't require actual bodies to make a friend, only someone who will step up when the need is great, and do what must be done regardless of the personal inconvenience.

So a big Hazah! to Mr. D.H., whomever he may be, from everyone who may at one time or another have the opportunity to be his true friend.

And Happy Birthday!


Friday, March 11, 2011

The joys of multi-card reading

As mentioned at the bottom of my prior posting, because of a surprising number of errors being received when I tried to use my venerable external card reader, I had ordered an internal multi-card reader. Well, it arrived in good order, and now the front of my PC has one more blue LED than it had.

I guess this is the way that streetlights have destroyed the night for so many of us, one bulb at a time.

They nicely include both grey and black faceplates, for the utterly pointless aesthetics of having the machine match. It must be important to someone, and I did indeed use the matching faceplate. It was already in place. My server has a silver DVD drive in a black case, and I can't say that anyone has complained.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Recovering from motherboard failures, and clean computing

When last we left the scene, one server was dead, the desktop dieing. However, ordering two new motherboards was successful. They arrived from Magic Micro quickly and in good order, and it was time to clean things up and make two working machines.

First, a note on cleaning. I am sick (and tired) of computer hardware that cannot be cleaned. Laptops that require being sent back to the manufacturers in order to be cleaned, things like that. I remember one call to Circuit City for a Sony Vaio laptop I owned, where the person who answered the phone simply did not understand what I meant when I said the fan needed to be cleaned.

I had to let her go to her script and answer the question "Is the machine overheating and shutting down?" with "Yes", because if I didn't say "yes" she didn't have any option for having me send it in for cleaning at all. So they did the cleaning, and wiped Linux, but I've learned always to do a full backup before letting anyone else even touch my machines.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

SSH, X11, and You

SSH Encrypted Network Connections

Recently I read an article where the author went through great pains to launch an application on a remote system and display it locally, over an encrypted session.

Doing this is actually far, far easier to do than ggarron makes it out to be. It's no more difficult than a single option in SSH. But first, what is SSH to you?

Right off the bat, please, don't fear the command line. If you're new to UNIX style systems, like Linux, the command line can seem daunting. It just sits there waiting for you to type something. Don't let it bother you, as long as you're not root you can't do much harm.

The logo of OpenSSH
Secure Shell is a command line application that allows you to replace telnet, ftp and xhost with a secure link to a remote system with serious protection of the data you transfer.

SSH uses passwords, or can be configured to use Public Key encryption, like GunPG or PGP do. Passwords can work into a system the first time, Public Key authentication has to be set up ahead of time.

For a good SSH primer, if you don't have a "Unix Power Utilities" volume sitting around, this article on seems quite straight forward. There are lots of results if you use Google to look for "ssh howto", and I've noticed that the Ubuntu forums tend to cater well to "first time users". The Frequently Asked Questions list gets rather technical. 

Monday, February 28, 2011

On Linux, Software Patents, Shakespeare and the Web

A user by the name of "Upinvermont" has posted an excellent article, On Linux, Software Patents, Shakespeare & the Web.

I wonder if he's written any SPAM haiku?

"A SPAM, by any other aspic, would smell as sweet?"

But anyway, what I find most interesting about this article is how it brings the raging copying and building upon other's work of Elizabethan England into equation, or at least comparison, with the Open Source software ecosystem the literati often refer to simply as "Linux."

I have often compared the Open Source software environment to music. My favorite example being "Variations on a Theme by Paganini" by Johannes Brahms. A beautiful work of music which in no way detracts from the original, but does inspire someone who loves it to look up the original guitar work, like I did. It is also very much in doubt if such a work could have been produced under the present regime, considering what happened to George Harrison with My Sweet Lord.

Would Shakespeare's works have reached the audience they do today? Who can say. What I can say is that what happens outside of copyright and patent is very different than what happens under Intellectual Property: Imitation becomes not a crime, but the sincerest form of flattery.

If music be the food of love, play on. Play on, McDuff!

Ubuntu 11.04 Natty Narwhal and the Unity Desktop, for real this time!

If you're interested in "what has gone before", my previous article is for you. This entry will pick up where that one left off, with the actual successful loading and launching of Canonical's Unity Desktop.

The Ubuntu development community is racing ahead with Unity, including creating a 2-D Unity variant which will work under VirtualBox, which I must use since I don't have a spare system upon which to install Ubuntu Natty Narwhal for testing.

For installation and a run-down of default Ubuntu, you can see my prior article on Natty Narwhal, which begins "at the beginning."

Sunday, February 27, 2011

You know the universe is out to get you when....

Update: Part 2 has been posted.

Prior to Friday, I had exactly one problem with a motherboard, the clock battery leaked and damaged the traces. That system had been running for 5 years in a friend's garage, slowly rusting while running DNS, WWW, SMTP, my "blog" before the word blog was invented, and whatever else I needed in a server, but time did work its inexorable will.

Friday, my server was purring along just fine, and then it stopped. I thought it was a power supply problem, but as I was trying to determine if the power supply was still working, I saw a small orange flash.

The next power cycle attempt also got a bit of orange, but it was not small, and the smoke and cracking sound was more than clear as to exactly what had gone wrong. I have a picture of the offending surface-mount component, but it will be hard for me to post the picture due to the other problem. Note to self, always keep a working laptop for just such emergencies.

"Other problem? You mean this gets worse?"

Thursday, February 24, 2011

When The Net Was Young

Originally written Saturday, July 17th, 2004, 17:08:08 EDT

I would like to wax philosophic on a subject for a moment. My apologies to anyone who doesn't care.

I started working at NASA Ames Research Center in July, 1992. Prior to this I had worked as a computer operator then network engineer for a large multinational, and I'd been using network services starting with Compu$erve in 1983, then Fido-net, I-link, many BBS's, etc.

Being about as close to the heart of things as one could get, and working the graveyard and evening shifts, gave me a wonderful ring-side seat to watch as a Liberty occurred.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A response to DistroWatch "Introducing Debian GNU/Linux 6.0"

The 8th DistroWatch Weekly of 2011 feature article, "Introducing Debian GNU/Linux 6.0", comes in as a qualified success for Debian.

The author,  Jesse Smith, seems to have had trouble with Debian in the past, even while the various tributary distributions like Ubuntu and KNOPPIX would run on his hardware just fine. Hardware wouldn't be recognized, the installer would crash, and so on. But in the words of Michael Palin, "This one stayed up!"

All well and good, let's explore some of Mr. Smith's comments in light of my own rather long history of using Debian.

A note on installation disks. Debian provides 4 different install disk styles in addition to the Debian Live image. These ISO images are Bootable Business Card (under 46MB), Net Install (189MB), CD#1 (642MB) and DVD#1 (4.4GB). Every image except the Bootable Business Card will install a base Debian system without a network link.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Why is Linux security so much better than Windows? Part 2

A recent article came across my radar,

Black ops: how HBGary wrote backdoors for the government, by Nate Anderson

"This is ideal because it’s trivial to remotely seed C&C messages into any networked Windows host," noted Hoglund, "even if the host in question has full Windows firewalling enabled."
This comment really isn't a "why is Linux security so much better", but just one example of that principle. The entire article deserves reading if for nothing else than to realize just how confident these people are that they can write such cracking software at will.

Friends don't let friends use Windows.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Integrating the Menu into the Ubuntu Unity Window Titlebar

I just read a very interesting post about placing the menu bar into each window titlebar in Ubuntu's Unity desktop.

With ever increasing sizes of screens, this means much less mouse movement to reach the application menu, but as the person who created this mock-up,  Andrea Azzarone, said, just how is someone to move the window frame if one cannot so easily "grab the title bar"?

This is a very interesting idea to me, one of those fundamental changes to something that has been "standard" ever since the Mac first presented the rest of the world with what we now all know of as the "Graphical User Interface".

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Bodhi Linux 0.1.5 and the Enlightenment Desktop

20110220 Update: 0.1.6 Released, see below

Bodhi Linux 0.1.5 has been released, and I wanted to get a look at it. I'm glad they are using BitTorrent to distribute the install disk, even though its 380MB size makes distribution easy on the bandwidth.

Enlightenment is one of the most beautiful of the Linux window managers that is being produced. I've used the E-Live and PCLinuxOS-Enlightenment LiveCD distributions in the past, and found them to be both quick and aesthetically pleasing.

And isn't beauty something that the world needs more of? Well, it certainly doesn't hurt.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Ubuntu 11.04 Natty Narwhal and the Unity Desktop

Update: Got Unity working, please see this entry.

Since 1995, with my first install of Debian from 14 (or 16, can't remember) 1.4MB floppy disks, I have used many different Linux distributions.

Knoppix, PCLinuxOS, Dragon Linux where I first used KDE, Phat Linux (which doesn't even have a Wikipedia reference any more), Red Hat, Damned Small, and I can't remember what else. I even took a good look at Linux From Scratch before realizing that I didn't really want to take the time away from my family to deal with that. But who knows what tomorrow brings?

Until now, I've not even tried to use Ubuntu, touted often as The Most Popular Linux Of All Time. It's based upon Debian, a mix of packages from the various Debian builds, and after using Debian itself for nearly 16 years I didn't see a need to "muck things up".

Two things have come together to make me want to try it. First, VirtualBox, which allows me to try these things without having to dedicate an entire system to the effort.

Second, Canonical (Ubuntu's parent company) finally is putting in something that is NOT included in Debian: the Unity Desktop.

So I figured, I just got done with an article all about how Linux is flexible, that the same applications can be presented in ways to suit anyone's preferences with different window managers and desktop environments, so let's check out Unity.

Friday, February 11, 2011

A simple explanation of home networking.

I've been asked by a friend to do a primer on what I could term "Home Networking". That is, as much as possible simple plug and play by people who are not, and have no interest in, running things like web servers or mail servers.

Let me introduce to you, The Router:

Some people connect their computer directly to their ISPs hardware, be it by cable, DSL or sometimes even dial-up, whwhere their system acquires a unique IPv4 address and becomes directly reachable to the world. Without robust security on that system, it will get cracked.

This is where a router belongs, between the big bad outside world, and your nice, comfortable, warm and friendly local area network, even if that is just one PC. Here's what mine looks like:


Word to the wise:

When you order a new SATA DVD drive to replace the broken IDE drive, even if you have a SATA data cable, check to be sure you also have the SATA power cord.

And even if you know your power supply has one, like I did, make sure it will reach where you need it to go.

A photo will be posted when I get that machine put back together after a trip to the store. Hope they have a standard-to-SATA power plug adapter, like the one that was offered when I ordered the drive but didn't get. Yes, I know, "Next time you'll know better."

And now, you will too.


Ok, here's the picture, "Where it reached" and "Where it needs to go":

A few hours have past, and what do I have? Nothing. Serial ATA power cable? What's that???? Oy.

When the computer department manager at Xxxxx Xxx tells me, "I have no idea what you're talking about", I know it's time to go back to New Egg, Tiger Direct or Ebay for sanity and technical savvy.

I shook my head as I was leaving at the line of people at their "professional" technical support desk. I didn't expect it would be well received if I started handing out my computer repair business cards.

The last time I bought a system there, a laptop, I asked if I could get a Windows refund. The guy got a glazed look in his eyes and asked, "Why?"

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Desktop Linux's Killer Feature: Flexibility.

Debian has a reputation in the world of Linux distributions as, well, "stodgy". Debian Stable is pointed to as being out of date, stale, boring.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The Debian developers have put together a titanic number of software packages, and done the work to make them function together like... " an enormous clock."

"The finest clocks have jeweled movements. Cogs that fit, and work together by design. I'm being metaphorical, Bob."

Several fine tutorials and demos have been posted of Debian since the release of Squeeze, 6.0, on Sunday. Here's one I particularly like:

But there is something more that I believe needs to be addressed. Just what do you get with one disk of Debian anyway?

I used Debian DVD#1 to see just what kind of variety a user could get out of it.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Negative aspects of IPv6?

I was reading the comments on about an article on the costs of transitioning the world to IPv6 from the present ubiquity of IPv4.

As a network engineer I've often considered this, and have come up with various combinations of tunneling, smart routers, transitional gateways and such to "solve" possible problems. The fact is that no one entity is ever going to fund the re-engineering of every IP capable device in the world all at once. And a Linux powered router can easily act as a gateway between legacy IPv4 hardware on the user side and an IPv6-only "world". So the transition need be neither overwhelming nor even extraordinarily expensive, and it can be accomplished as quickly as people choose to do it.

But for a moment, I would like to explore the problems that Rainer Weikusat, GaAsP, Golodh, Bernard Swiss and Ken Jennings, as of my writing this, have brought up. And of course, any of my own consideration that might arise.

Why is Linux security so much better than Windows?

Have you ever wondered why Linux systems seem to get hacked so much less than Windows? Here is an excellent example:

Imagine for a moment someone at a Windows conference going on for an hour, with source code and subsystem examples, all the ways he could imagine hacking into Windows via the USB system.

Well, no, can't do that because Microsoft does not allow anyone who has access to the source code and subsystems in Windows to do such presentations. Any such exploits can only be hypothetical, and really smart people who do not work for Microsoft cannot make changes to that source code and submit them to Microsoft.

All that is not just possible in the UNIX, Linux and BSD environments, it's encouraged!

That said, complacency is the greatest danger to computer security. Just because you run Linux does not mean you can run every binary and script someone sends to you. ...and get away with it forever!

Follow-up to the Trinity Desktop

This was originally published on Feb 4th as a follow-up to my prior post, included for completeness.

Enjoy, Curt-


Trinity has shown a few problems to me that I consider difficult enough to try to move on to Xfce.

Konqueror-Trinity has failed to authenticate ANY https certificates. I constantly have to "continue anyway" "forever" every time I go to a new site.

K3b-Trinity has not been fixed to correctly verify CDs and DVDs. This was a known problem leading up to KDE4, but was not fixed then due to the excuse we have all heard, "We're not going to bother, because we're not going to be supporting that code base going forward."

Little things like that really inspire confidence.

Anyway, I've used K3b (as in KDE4) and I like it very much. Disk writing is something I do on a regular basis, so it matters to me that my chosen tool works well.

So here are the hurdles to abandoning KDE3/Trinity for me: Kmail, Kaddressbook, Kwalletmanager, Konqueror's bookmarks that I've acquired over the decade of use.

Claws-Mail can, and I've tested to make sure it does, import the Kmail mbox files just fine. And I don't mind going to directories full of individual emails rather than the single mbox files, both can be searched and compressed for backup just fine. The seamless GPG function in Kmail is not quite there, but the known problems with Kmail/Kaddressbook and the KDE4 "everything with a database behind it" give me great pause to consider Kmail to be workable going forward.

Konqueror's bookmarks are stored as XML files, which is annoying but not impossible to work through if that's what I end up having to do. At least it's plain text and not some kind of binary format trying to be "helpful".

I can still use Konqueror-4, even though I find it very frustrating that the favicons aren't being correctly used. Almost as if Konqueror-4 rejects any favicon that was stored by Konqueror-3, just out of spite.

And one thing I am looking forward to: clean menus. There are a number of entries in the KDE3/Trinity menus that are "cruft" from having the entire .kde directory restored from backups each time I've (re-) installed my system, in order to keep such things as the password wallets, bookmarks and GUI settings.

Anyway, this is kind of a sad thing for me to say, finally giving up my dream of continuing with KDE3 style into the future. Hopefully KDE4's Kaddressbook/Kwalletmanager will be reliable enough to work while I try to move them over to more generic and agnostic tools.


Debian Linux 6 and the Trinity Desktop

Originally published December 6th, I thought this was an excellent way to open my "blog".

Enjoy. Curt-


Well, I am finally done with a week's efforts at almost successfully jumping from Lenny and a very familiar KDE3.5 environment to Sid and the Trinity Desktop.

====== Debian Squeeze Install: ======

Having installed Debian quite a few times over the course of 15 years, this was not difficult. I used a daily-build of the Squeeze bootable business card for the install:

Debian 6, Squeeze, was released February 6, 2011, so my "daily build" comment is no longer valid. Best to use the current "stable" release.